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Police officers detain a man in Moscow on Saturday after they called to protest against the military discovery.

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Police officers detain a man in Moscow on Saturday after they called to protest against the military discovery.

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MOSCOW – Russians protested again against President Vladimir Putin’s decision to deploy more forces for his complex military operation in Ukraine – holding widespread demonstrations in dozens of cities across Russia on Saturday despite threats of arrest and a heavy police presence.

As the night began, more than 700 people were detained in the country, with the majority of arrests in Moscow and St. Petersburg, according to the human rights monitoring group OVD-INFO.

The demonstrations came as Russians continued to grapple with the impact of a Kremlin order to call up 300,000 more troops for the military campaign – a move President Putin described as “partisan mobilisation”.

“I did not hear the word ‘war’ from Putin’s mouth. And if there is no war, how can we have a mobilization?” said Natalya Zurina, a retired university professor, in an interview with NPR.

“He is calling on our young men to die in vain, I just couldn’t stay at home,” Zurina added.

Confusion over who will be drafted has led to an exodus of young men out of Russia, with long lines forming at Russia’s borders and air tickets out of the country hard to come by.

Demonstrations against the draft effort earlier in the week led to more than 1,300 arrests, according to rights groups.

On a rainy Saturday in Moscow, police and riot police appeared well positioned ahead of a late afternoon protest at a location chosen by organizers at the last moment.

“Putin said he would not change the constitution. He changed the constitution. Putin said there would be no mobilization and yet here we are,” said a young man in his 20s to NPR.

He didn’t have the chance to give his name before the OMON troops suddenly approached, checked his documents and took him away.

Anastasia, a designer who declined to give her last name out of concern for her safety, said she had come to see if she was alone in her anger over Putin’s decision to send more troops into a conflict she never saw. supported.

“I have two relatives directly impacted by this decision, but fortunately they are now on their way out of the country,” she told NPR.

It’s a tragedy that’s happening,” she added through tears.

Police officers detained a man in Moscow on Saturday.

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Police officers detained a man in Moscow on Saturday.

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NPR witnessed several dozen arrests as police checked documents and made arrests seemingly at random.

“I just got off the subway!” shouted one man as he was thrown against the side of a police van.

Online videos later showed riot troops appearing to detain people in a tourist park overlooking the Kremlin – including one man wearing a food delivery uniform.

There were also scenes of violence: in Saint Petersburg, a video shared online showed riot police hitting a young protester on the head as he lay on the ground.

In Moscow, a video showed a woman’s screams coming from inside a police van, before the car’s engine drowned out her screams. (NPR has not independently verified the authenticity of the videos.)

The arrests also occurred when the government lifted the consequences of dissent.

On Saturday, the Russian leader signed into law a bill that now criminalizes refusing to serve in the military with up to 10 years in prison.

The move came at the end of a week that saw the measure rushed through both the lower and upper houses of Russia’s parliament.

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